The USS Enterprise review by Paul M. Newitt
Paul M. Newitt kindly offered to share his insights on the new Enterprise kit from Polar Lights. You can’t turn down an offer like that. Paul published the StarFleet Assemby Manuals in the late 1970’s and changed the hobby, inspiring builders to accurately detail and light their models. I can safely say that if Paul had not published his books, there would be no CultTVman.
Polar Lights Classic TOS-E 1:350 kit review.
When I wrote and self-published the StarFleet Assembly Manual series back in 1977-84, I had always hoped for a large, 3-foot kit of the original TV series Enterprise, and here it is– after 35 years. As Steve mentioned in his review, I suppose I predicted it, or at least had wishful thinking that AMT would do it. I remember back in 1978, at age 22, visiting the west coast rep offices for AMT, in a snazzy upscale Wilshire Blvd. office in Los Angeles, lighted Enterprise in hand, placed it on their board room table, working to the amazement of the model company reps at that time. I could see the wheels turning in their heads….but sadly, no 3′ Enterprise with lights resulted from my visit….(although an 1701-A ship with electronics–did!!)
The SFAM series led me to visits to Paramount, meeting designer Andrew Probert and modelmaker Mark Stetson. A trip to a New York Trek Convention in 1978 resulted in lifetime friendships with Doug Drexler and Geoffrey Mandel, who today are highly respected designers in Hollywood. Siince I finished SFAM4 in 1984, I went on to other adventures in SF fandom, scale modeling, propmaking, Disney’s Discovery Bay, Ford Mustangs, and publishing. My “life” with Trek fans in San Diego was not unlike any epissode of Big Bang Theory; including a trip out to the Yuma desert to watch the filming of Jedi.
One of my biggest design projects in Trek modeling was the electronic retrofitting of 11 brass Masterpiece Replicas’ (28″ long) 1701-D models. “Star Trek-The Experience” in Las Vegas asked me to come up with a replacement electronics system that would be remote control with lights and sound–which me and my team completed–and sold all 11 in 6 weeks for about $3K each. That led to a limited run of cast TOS Klingon Cruisers that I made, and included aluminum support bases I designed to look like Klingon swords.
Fast forward to this historic day; receiving this marvelous kit from Steve. Let me first applaud Polar Lights for doing this kit, and taking the financial risk to do so. This must have been a huge investment in their time, expertise, and money to get this made for the fans and modelers. So–thank you!! If you’re any kind of fan of the show and this classic starship, BUY THIS KIT, whether you’re a modeler or not. You’ll be glad that you did. It’s awesome!! (and buy it from CultTVman, too!).
In my adult life, I’ve always looked at scale model kits not what they ARE, but what they could BECOME. My background is in Model Railroading special effects (in fact, I wrote a book on it), and when you’re building a scale environment, you have to assemble the elements that work together to create a scene that “suspends disbelief”. This was my intention with the old AMT Star Trek kits, via the SFAM series. It’s not so much making it into a toy, as it’s a process to make others think, just for a second or more, that it seems very real.
So, as a first impression, this kit has tremendous potential to become quite a fantastic studio-type miniature of the original Enterprise! Here are some quick observations:
- All the packaging is top notch. A very well-made box, with a top and bottom. Great job, guys! I love the artwork on the sides, taking advantage of the full color printing. This is part of the modeling experience–to have fun looking at the box–it brings the kid out of all of us!
- Nice placement of the parts in the box, delicate parts wrapped in foam sheets. A very classy presentation!!
- There is more plastic in this kit than an entire dashboard from a new Buick! Heavy and about .060″ thick in some places. Well thought out for supporting the weight of the ship (it’s always been an akward ship design for a gravity environment, right??).
- Here we go–the grid on the top and bottom of the saucer….I totally understand from a model company’s point of view to do this. I measured the grid thickness to be somewhere around .010″ (times 350 = 3.5″ wide in the “real” world). It’s just me…but I’d putty the grid lines completely, since the pencil marks on the Smithsonian model are so faint, that this miniature, 3.6 times smaller than the 11 foot model, would make those lines disappear (no doubt, this will be an unresolved point of contention on the message boards). But, it was a good idea on Polar Lights’ part, since adept modelers will be able to fix it accurately. I kinda cringed at the texture of the saucer sections. If one were to scale that up to full size, you’d have the same texture of a pebbled concrete driveway! Not a big problem– more advanced modelers can get rid of it with some wet sanding. But I can see whay PL did this–to enhance the look of the ship with some spray paint.
- The color choices are probably pretty accurate, but the little explanation on the box art is confusing. Maybe it’s saying ” well, we did our best, and we don’t want to start an argument with fans, but here you go”….. After all, PL wanted to sell off-the-shelf spray paints at the store with the kit at the same time. I need to look at that hull color on the box ( Tamiya J.N. Grey) to see how it compares to the Walmart “Concrete” color I chose long ago (and matched in person to overspray on back of the original TOS-E blueprint, owned by Richard Datin) . One solution would be to prime with a soft military green first as an undercoat for the J.N. Grey. A side note– another possibility is to mix “Polly-S” paint to the precise color and hand brush it onto the ship, then a very light 1500 grit wet sanding. Since we’re on the topic of painting, whether you install lighting or not, I’d prime the entire model with a thin coat of flat black, then chrome spray paint on the inside of the hull sections (assuming it’s not conductive to any electronics installed). All in all, a good shot at the hull color cast into the plastic, IMO…. Thanks, PL for doing that.
- The Secondary Hull is pretty cool. It’s bigger than a hand mixer!!…and the window placement is accurate (I have yet to match it to Gary’s blueprints, but I’m sure they’re OK). The only thing I’d do is replace the raised lines at the front sides (side sections to the dish part) with strip styrene. I’d also use scribed styrene for the little inserts, replacing the injected parts. No fault of PL, I just like using crisper pieces. I love the inner bracing, and especially for the support stand. Someone engineered this kit very well. Beefed up spots for the support pylons into the Secondary Hull, too. Good job, guys! (how we coulda used that back in 1977!)!!
- The Nacelle sections are nice. A little dimpling on the inboard halves; easily fixed with a shot of putty (I recommend Liquitex Modeling Paste, it’s water-based ( I no longer use bondo)) and block sanding. Finally, a nice taper to the shape! The little hex-shaped holes on the inboard side for the locating pins are very cool–again, good model engineering. These are so big, I suppose one could make a cutaway nacelle with lighted elements, like the TOS-E poster once available.
- The deflector dish assembly is nice– I remember helping Gary Kerr try to figure that part out. That part #15 was a real mystery on the 11ft. model. Not sure why we get three #17 parts (to lose thee other two?). These parts cast in color are cool for younger (or inexperienced ) modelers. When you’re eleven or so, and you make a kit like this, and it’s not difficult to build out of the box, nor have to paint it–you’re really happy and proud of your work (for the rest of us, it’s gonna be a quandry over how to paint this–and how much weathering to include–as a “studio” model)
- Looking over the other parts, nice castings! (the first pulls are the best!). I like the bridge part, sensor ring, interesting Bussard parts, intercooler parts, and field restoration caps (with retrofit Jefferies sphere).
- The dorsal has a really nice compound curve shape to it–something that previous kits always managed to mess up.
- The support pylons for the nacelles are great! I like the inner structure for support (finally, no more sagging nacelles!!)…and someone was thinking (and read my SFAM3?) and put grooves in there for wiring.
- The bridge installation is interesting. Sounds like they had a top level meeting at PL about that. Do it as the show led us to believe, or the Star Fleet Technical Manual version?? Makes us stop and wonder which way to go? My answer? (Do it “face com forward”, because…the turbo lift could have moved a bit counter-clockwise, then down the dorsal, etc…). But nonetheless, thanks PL, for giving the retentive Trekkers a choice!! Not sure about the clear top, but I can see how it relates the that TOS episode “The Cage” opening shot.
- The nacelle light effect domes and inner domes and the little lights (#142-143) are clever representations of the Christmas lights used. Some years ago, I took Studio FX master Richard Datin out to lunch in Reno, and we talked about that. Yep, Xmas lights, and the motor was a store-window type display motor. Side note–in all my years as a fan and modeler, I’ve never seen such a desire for modelers to replicate this effect (maybe outdone by LIS fans with the Jup II fusion core??). I have to hand it to PL for doing all this work, and coming up with their version with or without their lighting kit and motor. But for those still not satisfied, give PL a break here, since they had to balance between “authentic” and a practical scale model kit for most to actually be able to make. This one part of the kit WILL be tweaked over and over and over. Watch YouTube. My two bits on this– is to watch looping of the effect from the show (i.e. “Journey To Babel”), and get a feel for how it looks. It’s not wild flashing lights with a fan in front of it. It’s supposed to represent the acquisition of hydrogen by the use of spinning elements, and the reactions of the anti-matter within that process. But anyway….I appreciate PL providing the parts for us to work with. And by the way…the direction of the fans would vary from show to show. My answer to that would be to match the prop directions of a B-17 Bomber–one of Jefferies’ favorite WWII planes.
- The Shuttlebay is very cool. Bravo!! Again, PL was thinking. for those into superdetailing, you can replicate any of it in styrene, using the kit parts as a template.
- A well-done decal sheet. Finally, someone got it right. I don’t know if the areas around the numbers, etc…will become clear when applied or an off-white color. If these are carefully applied to the model, it will look quite good, since graphics on a miniature really adds to how professional it appears.
OVERALL RATING: 9 out of 10!
This kit speaks well of how Polar Lights listened to the fans and modelers–for the past 35 years!! They are to be commended for their hard work–and especially to my pal Gary Kerr for his dedication to getting everything right–and down to eight digits behind the decimal point in Autocad!!
IF you’re one to make a face every time an Enterprise kit comes out, know that in my opinion, if there’s something you don’t like, remember that this kit was designed for everyone from the causual modeler that just wants it on their shelf — to the very serious effects modeler that can use this kit and go very far with it–both from working the plastic and painting to the electronics. I’d like to personally appreciate all the tough decisions and tedious detailing that the design team had to go through to make this kit happen (which having an accurate model–with delays–is better than a quick version with inaccuracies).
This kit has already fostered a LOT of spinoff “accessories” by PL themselves, including the LED lighting kit, etched metal grills, Pilot version parts, and alternative starship names & registry numbers. We’ll see what the garage kit industry has to offer, which could be interesting. Perhaps some mod parts for a Scout/Destroyer or Tug version (with six-foot long containers??) Maybe we can expect all kinds of things to go with this kit, such as Botany Bay/DY-500 ships, a F-104 (already available in 1:350), tiny figures, and maybe a Paramount Studios support base with bluescreen background for a large diorama.
…and by the way…. just have fun building this kit!!!!
Thank you for your time and for your support for all these years!!
Paul M. Newitt
Paul M. Newitt wrote four volumes of the StarFleet Assembly Manual. The first three have been collected and published as StarFleet Assembly Manuals – the Ultimate Modeling Edition, available in the CultTVman Hobbyshop. Paul also wrote the Mustang GT/CS Recognition Guide and Owner’s Manual, the definitive book about the California Mustang, available through his website.